The Every Day-ness of Earth Day


April 22 is nationally recognized as Earth Day, that one day of the year where kind-minded folks and hip organizations bring out their recycling, plant gardens and clean up parks, beaches and rivers. But in Missoula, a lot of that stuff happened on the 111 days before Earth Day and will happen on the 252 days after it. Missoula is a pretty “green” town by most accounts, but many think (myself included) there is room to grow greener practices, and recycling will lead us down that path.

What those who practice regular recycling see as an obstacle keeping the masses from recycling is, for lack of a better term, “laziness.” It’s that humans look for what’s easy and convenient in most parts of their lives, and when a piece of “trash” can just be thrown in a bag or out the front door (into their garbage can) it can be difficult to convince them to change their habits.

In Missoula, as great as we are at being green, we are below the national average for recycling solid waste. The national average of solid waste that gets recycled is 34 percent. However, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality estimates that Missoulians only recycle between 16-18 percent of their solid waste. Why are we below the national average, and 50 percent below it at that?

Perhaps there are two reasons. One is that Missoula is not quite up to par with accepting all the solid waste recyclables people regularly dispose. Yes, Missoulians can now take their glass bottles to Target to get shipped back to the company’s distribution center in Albany, Oregon. But Missoula still only recycles plastics #1 through #3 at most, and #4 – #7 end up in our landfill. So there must be solutions out there waiting to happen in terms of accepting a greater number of recyclables. We just haven’t implemented them yet.

The second reason I figure plays into Missoula being less-than-ideal for recycling is that its citizens aren’t taking full advantage of the recycling opportunities we do have. With two large-scale recycling facilities in town, Allied Waste and Pacific Recycling, where each offers drop-off recycling options, and a curbside recycling operation, Garden City Recycling (plus Allied Waste’s limited “Blue Bag” recycling program), there are few excuses (if any) that should keep Missoulians from at least meeting the national average. Our green neighbor, Portland, Oregon, is currently recycling about 55 percent of its solid waste (with a goal to bump that to 75 percent by 2015). Missoula is so often compared to our northwestern neighbor in lots of ways, but we are so far behind them for solid waste recycling.

A part of our high non-recycling rate, too, is that it doesn’t “cost” us to not recycle. By that I mean we pay a flat rate for our waste disposal and as long as it fits in our trash receptacles it gets taken away every week. What some municipalities have done around the country to encourage more recycling is to adopt a “PAYT” system, or “Pay as You Throw.” In this system, customers are charged varying rates based on the weight of their waste, therefore encouraging people to limit their garbage unless they are willing to pay for it. While it may not come to this in Missoula anytime soon, it’s a system catching on in many places in the U.S.

So this Earth Day keep in mind that what you do should reflect your every-day actions. If it means going out and  buying a set of recycling bins you’ll commit to using or setting up curbside service at your home, set something in motion that will keep your household green all year.  And be sure to check out Make it Missoula’s new Recycling Guide.  It’s all kinds of handy tips and information about how you can do your part.

Have a great green tip for recycling or repurposing? Share it with us below!


Ryan Newhouse has pedaled through thousands of miles of Missoula’s streets and trails as a commuter, long-distance cyclist, recreationist and former city bicycling ambassador. Although he now works from home, he still uses two feet or two wheels to push or pull himself and his daughter around town. Back to “Bike It” home pageor check out Ryan’s own blog.